| WASHINGTON, April 11
WASHINGTON, April 11 Republicans, Democrats and
even the White House distanced themselves Thursday from
President Barack Obama's proposal to trim Social Security and
other safety-net benefits, illustrating yet again the difficulty
of reaching a bargain to reduce spending and tame the deficit.
Republicans, including House of Representatives Speaker
John Boehner of Ohio, said Obama's offering - made Wednesday in
his budget plan for the 2014 fiscal year - did not go far enough
to cut spending.
Many Democrats thought it went too far, with House Minority
Leader Nancy Pelosi of California saying that it should be
debated, but not be part of any deficit reduction deal or budget
And White House spokesman Jay Carney said it was not
originally Obama's idea, but was included in the budget because
the president thought Republicans wanted it as part of any
deficit reduction deal.
"This is a Republican proposal," he said in his daily
The Obama proposal that got the most attention would change
how Social Security pension benefits are periodically adjusted
for inflation, resulting in a reduction of regular
cost-of-living increases for beneficiaries.
The idea - involving a measure of inflation known as the
chained Consumer Price Index, or chained CPI - was backed in
December by House of Representative Republican leaders and put
on the table at that time by Obama during negotiations over the
so-called "fiscal cliff" of automatic budget cuts and steep tax
A retiree who starts at age 65 with $20,000 in annual Social
Security benefits would be receiving $289 a month less after 25
years under the chained-CPI approach.
Obama also proposed increasing means-testing for some
beneficiaries of the government sponsored health insurance
program for seniors, Medicare.
The fact that these were Republican proposals did not stop
the head of the National Republican Congressional Campaign
Committee, Representative Greg Walden of Oregon, from calling
Obama's budget "a shocking attack on seniors" in a CNN interview
Montana Democratic Senator Max Baucus, chairman of the
Senate Finance Committee, struck a similar though less dramatic
theme in a statement Thursday, saying he was "disappointed."
DEMOCRATS SEE PROPOSAL AS 'NON-STARTER'
Pelosi told reporters she thought Democrats ought to hear
both sides, arranging a debate conducted by outside experts for
Pelosi joined the rest of her membership at the weekly House
Democratic Caucus meeting where lawmakers heard from Damon
Silvers of the AFL-CIO labor federation, representing opposition
to Obama's proposal, and Robert Greenstein, executive director
of the liberal Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, which
favors including entitlement reform in budgets.
Representative Keith Ellison of Minnesota told Reuters after
the meeting that while there were a few Democrats in favor of
maintaining an open mind to Obama's proposal, the caucus as a
whole "overwhelmingly" delivered the message that the so-called
chained-CPI was a non-starter.
"There was a lot of concern," Ellison said.
On the Republican side, Boehner, while saying he was
"encouraged that the president acknowledged that our safety net
programs are unsustainable," said Obama's offer was "nothing
close to what we need in order to preserve these programs and to
put ourselves on a path to balance the budget."
Boehner, at a news conference, distanced himself from
Walden's comment on CNN but Walden's remarks served as notice
that supporters of changes to Social Security could find it
being used as political ammunition against them.
"The Walden statement has had a huge impact," Greenstein
said. "There is a very large, very palpable fear" among House
Democrats that if they support the chained CPI, that Republican
challengers running against them in 2014 will do attack ads
against them and campaign against the Democrat voting to cut
senior Social Security benefits.
The fear is rooted in Democrats' memories of how the cuts to
Medicare spending in Obama's signature health legislation were
used against Democrats in 2010, he said.
"Prior to the Walden statements there were some making the
arguments that Democrats would be played for suckers in 2014,"
Greenstein said. "I think the Walden statement just confirmed
this. I saw firsthand today the viral effect it's had,"
Greenstein said Thursday.
The national debate over how to tame budget deficits
inevitably circles back to controlling costs among so-called
entitlement programs, which include the Social Security
retirement program and Medicare.
However, making changes to those program, which affect the
elderly and low-income Americans, is extremely delicate as it
gives either side a chance to accuse its opponents of being